Power Electronics

10% to 15% of Laptops Could Run on Micro Fuel Cells by 2012

Micro fuel cell (MFC) technology will power nearly 15% of the world's laptop computers as early as 2012, according to a recent ABI Research study.

The new power source should be seen in a limited number of laptops and PDAs, and in certain niche applications, in 2005. ABI Research's projections indicate a trial production of 2,000 units next year, mostly in Japan and the United States. Although U.S.-based companies initially demonstrated the technology’s promise, Japanese firms have taken the lead more recently.

After a successful rollout, companies will be able to scale up manufacturing capacity rapidly in successive years, assuming essential codes and standards are in place. Worldwide MFC shipments may then reach 120 million units by 2012.

"Not everything is a bed of roses in the micro fuel sector," says Atakan Ozbek, director of Energy Research and author of the study. "Most of the information that comes from companies is still not verifiable due to the emerging nature of the technology."

"This makes it hard to evaluate the sector's true status," he adds, "but our research indicates that micro fuel cells will be powering 13.5% of laptops by 2012."

Although most of the companies have secretly shown their working units to product vendors, no major vendor has yet signed a declaration of agreement.

One of the study's significant findings is that if micro fuel cells are going to enter commercial markets in even a small way in 2005, manufacturers must demonstrate their prototypes along with efficient refueling mechanisms before the end of 2004.

Will consumers adopt MFCs? Mass-market acceptance may be restrained if refueling or replacing fuel cartridges carries a high cost. However, the model has worked for the inkjet printer and ejectable razor industries, and companies such as Gillette, BIC and Tokai are showing interest in distribution.

The ABI Research study "Micro Fuel Cells: Market Challenges and Opportunities for Cameras, Laptops, PDAs and Wireless/Mobile Devices" analyzes five major end-user applications (wireless handsets, laptops, PDAs, digital camera/camcorders and mobile computing units) by technology and by region (North America, Europe and Japan). End-user market segment growth projections are dissected, along with MFC penetration into these applications. The study details business issues from both consumer and vendor standpoints, along with those of retail refueling companies.

For more information, visit www.abiresearch.com.

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